Revolutionary Todd Pletcher
War Pass—Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy
Although we’ve seen a number of talented 3-year-olds, this year’s Derby trail has become pretty much of a crapshoot. Leaving him at No. 1 mainly because there’s no reason to put anyone else there. Basing that a good deal on pedigree, especially the stamina in female family, and the colt’s will to win and ability to overcome adversity. There’s been a lot of talk about Goldencents’ 105 Beyer, as well as Verrazano’s 95 and other sub-100 figs by Eastern horses, but let’s not forget, this colt ran a 102 Beyer breaking his maiden and is heading back up there, despite having terrible trips. Who knows how fast he can run with a clean trip?
Orb Shug McGaughey
Malibu Moon—Lady Liberty, by Unbridled
I’ve been saying all along that, as a traditionalist, I’m pulling for the colt’s connections because they do things the right way. He’s improving the right way, he’s been trained the right way, and he runs the right way. My main question is how fast he really is, as his times haven’t stacked up against other times on the same card. But I don’t believe we’ve seen his best, despite four straight victories. Would Johnny V and Cordero actually take off an undefeated Pletcher colt? Let’s just say I’m sure Shug is already shopping around.
Verrazano Todd Pletcher
More Than Ready—Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway
There are going to be some who liked his Wood victory and others who didn’t. The bottom line is he did what he had to and got a lot out of the race. That 1:13 4/5 three-quarters was a gift for a horse with his brilliance, but his last 3f in :36 3/5 was solid and he did fight off the challenge of a very classy horse. This colt gallops out after his works faster than that, so it’s safe to say he’s not a speedy-crazy horse and can settle. Once they go three-quarters that slow, you have to ignore speed figures, as it becomes a freaky kind of race. Bottom line is when you can get a good prep, show some fortitude, and win it, too, that’s an ideal scenario. He did try to get out on three separate occasions in the stretch. He’s going to confront a much stiffer pace in the Derby, so we still have no idea how he’s going to handle that going 1 1/4 miles in a 20-horse field.
Normandy Invasion Chad Brown
Tapit—Boston Lady, by Boston Harbor
Whereas the Wood was VJ-Day (Verrazano’s Victory in Jamaica Day), it also was D-Day (or Derby Day) for Normandy Invasion, whose closing rush to snatch second gave him the 40 points he needed to make the Derby cut. Despite the slow pace, his :36 1/5 final 3f still was very impressive, as was his strong gallop-out, opening up 5 lengths. He did have his head cocked to outside coming down the stretch. As soon as he hit the finish line, the rush began to jump on his bandwagon, with jocks agents all over the country no doubt groveling to get the mount. Like Velazquez, it will be hard for Castellano to go off Revolutionary, but this also is a very enticing mount. Cannot recall when the four possible Derby favorites had only two riders. His female family has a good deal of speed influences, but he runs like a horse who wants to keep going.
Oxbow D. Wayne Lukas
Awesome Again—Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy
Still believe this colt has tremendous upside and would have to be a trip handicapper’s delight. Just want to see what he can do with a good trip, where he doesn’t lose a ton of ground and doesn’t make a premature move. His running style would seem to fit Gary Stevens perfectly. Last time he had a good trip he won by over 11 lengths. He is one horse whose pedigree shouts 1 1/4 miles on both sides and I just want to see a big effort that can move him forward one more time.
Goldencents Doug O'Neill
Into Mischief—Golden Works, by Banker's Gold
His Santa Anita Derby score was impressive for sure, but I just don’t know what to make of him going 1 1/4 miles. His pedigree is inundated with sprinters and milers, even though his jockey already has him going 1 1/2 miles. His 105 Beyer was a big jump from last, but he came home his last 3f in a moderate :38 1/5. But to his credit he did run his opening three-quarters in 1:10 2/5 and beat the third horse by almost 10 lengths, although this was not a strong field as a whole by any means. Imagine O’Neill winning back-to-back Kentucky Derbys with Mario Gutierrez and Kevin Krigger. He’s already done it in the Santa Anita Derby, which is pretty remarkable in itself.
War Academy Bob Baffert
Giant's Causeway—Cabbage Key, by A.P. Indy
Pulling this one out of left field, despite the fact he’s behind the eight-ball and is a big lazy horse with not a lot of racing foundation. But I feel he’s going to run big in the Arkansas Derby. Watched his last race several times and was very impressed with the way he won and the way he moves. Remember, Manando, the horse he just cruised by with little effort, gave Goldencents all he could handle in the Sham Stakes (98 Beyer), and he came home in :23 4/5, :24, and :06 2/5 eased up. What I also love about him is how he takes after his sire and most of all his broodmare sire, running low to the ground. His stride is extremely reminiscent of A.P. Indy and rightly so. His dam is inbred 4x3 to Gay Missile, who is the great-granddam of A.P. Indy and granddam of Mayville’s Magic, who was bred to A.P. Indy to produce War Academy’s dam. So, you’ve got A.P. Indy’s great granddam close up twice in his female family. Also, I love the fact that in the year of Secretariat’s 40th anniverary of his Triple Crown sweep, this colt is inbred three times to Big Red through super mares Terlingua (dam of Storm Cat), Weekend Surprise (dam of A.P. Indy), and Secrettame (dam of Gone West). Many questions, but I’ll take a shot with him.
Vyjack Rudy Rodriguez
Into Mischief —Life Happened, by Stravinsky
It looked as if he were making a winning move after Rosario set him down in the stretch, but he couldn’t get closer than Verrazano’s flank. It was reported he bled a ‘2’ on a scale of ‘5,’ but bleeding through Lasix, you have to ask if the bleeding was caused by his struggle and inability to catch the winner. Once again, I honestly don’t know how far he wants to do go, but I am still convinced he’s an extremely talented horse. It also must be noted that inner track horses took a beating from Florida shippers all afternoon. He tried awfully hard, but I think the slow pace hurt him, as he had to really buckle down to try to catch Verrazano, who had a lot left after those inert fractions. Normandy Invasion was able to come late and pick up the pieces and just nail him for second. I’m not crazy about a horse going into a stressful race like the Kentucky Derby having just bled and having a dicey temperament on top of that. I think he’s better than No. 9, but for now this is as high as I can rank him until I see him train at Churchill.
Itsmyluckyday Eddie Plesa Jr.
Lawyer Ron—Viva la Slew, by Doneraile Court
Here we go again. It’s not easy moving him down to No. 10 after having him No. 1 for so many weeks, and he is another who could be an overlay come Derby Day. I just wish he had put up a little more of a fight when Orb came to him and had an easier time putting away Merit Man, who was coming off all sprints. There is always that nagging feeling that perhaps he simply ran too fast too early and peaked way too soon. It wasn’t surprising he regressed off his two monster speed figures in the Holy Bull and Gulfstream Derby, but I was hoping he would be more competitive. Let’s see how much energy he shows in his training after getting to Churchill.
Mylute Tom Amoss
Midnight Lute—Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations
This big good-looking colt takes after his sire in appearance and is really coming around the right way. His second in the Louisiana Derby fits the pattern of many Derby winners. He has the right temperament, can sprint or go long, and is sound and battle-tested. And he will have blinkers off second time in the Derby. He’s had nine starts at five different tracks and has really flourished since his two-month break from Dec. to Feb. He needed the Risen Star, where he was beaten only 3 1/4 lengths, and took a huge step forward in the Louisiana Derby, which put him on an upward spiral. He did extremely well on his early heart scans as a yearling, which no doubt has helped him bounce back race after race. After he vanned from Fair Grounds to Churchill they had to breeze him a half five days later because he was feeling so good. This is your true dark horse who will fly in under the radar.
Rydilluc Gary Contessa
Medaglia d'Oro—Swift and Classy, by Clever Trick
Been waiting for him to work and he appeared to put in a useful drill at Keeneland, but who knows what’s a good work over that track? He has two major hurdles to get over – Polytrack and then dirt. So even if he runs big in the Blue Grass against a large, talented field and makes it into the Derby, you still don’t know what he’ll do at Churchill. Yes, he ran poorly in his only dirt try, but it was his career debut and supposedly he lost it in the paddock, being exposed to something new. But now that he’s matured, those problems apparently are behind him. I have him on here for a simple reason – I just feel there is something special about him. Of course, that is based on his grass races and I’m obviously guessing his talent will translate to other surfaces (He definitely is bred for the dirt). If it doesn’t we’ll know next week and he can go back to the grass. But if it does….
Lines of Battle Aidan O'Brien
War Front—Black Speck, by Arch
Again stepping out of the box and going against final times, considering his about 1 3/16 miles in 2:02.05 in the UAE Derby was incredibly slow and that he’s never been on dirt. But there was something visually impressive about his race. Putting a watch on the race and the World Cup, he came home his final quarter and three-sixteenths four-fifths slower than Animal Kingdom (:25 1/5 final quarter and :19 2/5), which actually is pretty solid, considering the UAE Derby was his first start beyond a mile and he defeated the first four finishers of the 1 3/16-mile Al Bastakiya. Despite the deep, laboring track, over a distance well beyond the farthest he’d ever run, and not having raced in almost five months, he was able to turn back the challenge of Elleval on his inside and actually was drawing away at the end. And I love the fact his dam is a half-sister to Dynaformer and traces to one of Darby Dan’s foundation mares Golden Trail. Also from this family are grade I dirt horses Brian’s Time and Darby Creek Road. It’s a longshot, but in a seemingly wide-open year like this you might as well take a stab, and you have to admire O’Brien’s persistence in trying to win the Derby. Master of Hounds did run huge in 2011, finishing fifth, beaten only 5 1/4 lengths.
Knocking At The Door
You can’t say I’m not persistent when it comes to PALACE MALICE. No, I’m not crazy about having to bring him back in two weeks to run over Polytrack in a full field in order to try to get enough Derby points, but I will stick with him just in case the Royal Anthem grass influence comes out in the Blue Grass. He certainly deserves the chance after his horrid trip at Fair Grounds. The firm belief here is that he desperately needed the Risen Star, having had only one seven-furlong allowance race in almost seven months, and his Louisiana Derby was a complete toss after a nightmarish trip in which he was blocked in traffic throughout most of the stretch run. Who knows, maybe he’s not as good I think, but he at least deserves a shot to prove it one way or the other. There also is a possibility he could wait for the Lexington Stakes if his connections feel those 20 points added to the 10 he already has will be enough to get him in the Derby. I feel the Arkansas Derby, with a much smaller and likely weaker field and on dirt, would suit him far better, especially with 18 horses trying to get in the Blue Grass and several horses destined to draw terrible posts.
Rounding out the list of contenders, in addition to the brilliant, but inexperienced Sunland Derby winner GOVENOR CHARLIE and the vastly improved Spiral winner BLACK ONYX, are some live horses who could make a big leap after next weekend. They are WILL TAKE CHARGE (who had been No. 12 for the past several weeks), JAVA’S WAR (who needs only to duplicate his Tampa Bay Derby performance to emerge as solid contender), UNCAPTURED (who should improve big-time off his Spiral second, going 1 1/8 miles off a four-month layoff), OVERANALYZE (whose form was boosted by Normandy Invasion, and who is looking to rebound off a disappointing effort in the Gotham), DEN’S LEGACY (who is always right there against the best), DYNAMIC SKY (who has a great deal of potential), FALLING SKY (who ran deceptively good in his two races at Tampa), WEST HILLS GIANT (the pacesetting runner-up in the Gotham), DEWEY SQUARE (who is looking to find his form from last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club), the steadily improving Santa Anita maiden winner FOOTBRIDGE, and NOBLE TUNE (who is looking to transfer his turf form to the synthetic). You can make a case for any of these horses.